I’ll keep backing British business, says Homeserve boss Richard Harpin

The founder of Homeserve vowed to keep backing British business as he and his wife look set to bag half a billion pounds from the sale of the emergency repair firm.

Richard Harpin also said he will ‘never’ stop working and will ‘continue to invest in other British entrepreneurs’, following news of the group’s deal with Canadian investment house Brookfield Asset Management.

The 1200p per share cash offer, which values Homeserve at just over £4billion, will see Harpin scoop a mammoth £298million from his 7.4 per cent stake. 

High flyer: Homeserve founder Richard Harpin (pictured) with the company helicopter

His wife Katherine Harpin is also in line for a £192million payday from her 4.8 per cent holding.

The sale of the company, which helps people fix leaky pipes and faulty boilers, marks a blockbuster end to its time on the stock market under Harpin, who from humble beginnings built it into a continent-spanning empire over nearly three decades.

Born in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, and growing up near Newcastle, the 57-year old father of three exhibited a passion for business at an early age.

‘I always wanted to be an entrepreneur,’ Harpin said, with his earliest business endeavours including breeding and selling rabbits at the age of six as well as learning magic tricks to perform at parties when he was 11.

He attributed a large part of his motivation to his mother, a cub scout troop leader until the age of 74 who went on to complete a degree in theology two years later.

An avid reader, he also cites the influence of Jim Collins, an American author whose most famous work, Good to Great, examined how companies can improve their performance over time.

While his civil servant father hoped he would take up a safe career as an accountant, Harpin continued his entrepreneurial streak by founding Hookers, a fishing tackle business whose products could also be converted into high fashion earrings. 

He set up Homeserve in 1993 alongside Jeremy Middleton, whom he met while working in the marketing department of Procter & Gamble.

The two had originally worked together to set up a property lettings business.

However, stories from tenants about the difficulties and costs of finding tradesmen to perform emergency repairs sparked the idea that would eventually grow to become Homeserve.

The pair secured £500m in funding through a joint venture with water company South Staffordshire to set up Homeserve which, after rapidly expanding, demerged and listed on the stock market in 2004.

As head of the business, Harpin became known for his unusual commuting style from his home near York to the company’s offices 140 miles away in Walsall via chauffeur-driven car and his helicopter.

Cashing in: Harpin with wife Katherine who is also in line for a £192m payday from her 4.8% holding

Cashing in: Harpin with wife Katherine who is also in line for a £192m payday from her 4.8% holding

Despite the buyout by Brookfield, Harpin said he has no intention of ending his role in British business.

‘One of the things I feel passionate about is helping other entrepreneurs in the UK’, Harpin said, highlighting that he has already invested £30m of his own money to support seven aspiring moguls.

One of the first businesses Harpin backed was craft supplies company Crafter’s Companion, which was founded by businesswoman and Dragons’ Den star Sara Davies.

He also retained links to scouting, becoming an ambassador for the association in 2010 and providing £50,000 to help launch an entrepreneur’s badge to encourage interest in business outside of schools.

More recently, the multi-millionaire has turned his eye towards a skills shortage in the UK’s construction sector and is currently working on a scheme to encourage school leavers to take up trades such as carpentry and other roles in short supply, including those used by Homeserve’s repair technicians.

Despite its purchase by the Canadians, Harpin said Homeserve’s headquarters in Walsall will remain open and that it is ‘certainly not the end of the business’ but instead a new chapter.

He was optimistic about Brookfield’s ownership, saying they are ‘investing for the next ten years’.

‘I don’t see this as a foreign takeover of a British company. I think this is a great tribute to British entrepreneurialism.’

While he was tight-lipped about his future at the company (it is not known whether he will stay on as chief executive), Harpin has no desire to retire or partake in long trips around the golf course like many corporate executives.

‘I’m never going to stop working because my passion is business.’ he said.

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